Speak For Yourself

One of my many bad habits is spending too much time scrolling through the comment sections on controversial Facebook posts and internet news articles.  I know what I’m going to see will often disgust and anger me, but sometimes I do it anyway, in the vain hope that this time I will finally see some sensible remarks and reasonable arguments.  (I would love to say that this means I’m an optimist, but I think it really just means I’m the sort who tends to repeat her mistakes.)  Still, even bad experiences can be educational and I have learned a thing or two while wading through the muck and mire of on-line commentary.

First and foremost, lots of people simply can’t stand the idea that there are those who disagree with them, on anything, and the very idea of it sends them into a frenzy of self-righteous rage.  Which they then need to express, as often as possible, in case someone missed it the first few dozen times they vented in cyberspace.  The second thing I learned is more subtle, so it took me a while to spot it.  But eventually I noticed that people put way more time and energy discussing what they believe their “enemies” think and feel than they do in expressing their own opinions.

Phrases containing the word “they” dominate the threads, and are inevitably followed by all kinds of nasty statements.  “They” don’t care about the poor; “they” hate America; “they” have no sense of personal responsibility;  and so on and so on.  It doesn’t matter if the people commenting are conservative or liberal, religious or atheist, black or white, urban or rural, they all seem quite sure they know exactly what those “other” people are thinking, and they despise them for it.  Which isn’t exactly a recipe for world peace.

I know that we are living in scary times and that there is much going on around us that can make us feel angry and afraid, and that we all want our voices to be heard.  And we all do have the right to make our voices heard.  But I think that the trick is to stick to expressing our own beliefs rather than trying to put words in other people’s mouths and thoughts in other people’s heads.  Because unless we have asked someone who is different from us what he or she thinks, and then actually listened, really listened, to their answer, the fact is that we don’t have any idea.  I don’t know what your experience is, but whenever someone else tells exactly me what I believe, they are usually wrong.

I think the best thing we can do is voice our own concerns and express our own ideas in the hope that they will make a difference.  And I believe that instead of saying “They believe such and such,” it’s so much more effective to say “I believe in such and such,” because those words communicate rather than alienate.  Mostly, I believe that if we truly want to be a part of fixing this broken world, we need to learn to simply speak for ourselves.

Why Are We So Angry?

376As anyone who knows me is well aware, I get confused very easily.  So the other afternoon when I was using the drive-up ATM near my favorite grocery store, I somehow managed to make a wrong turn, thereby exiting the parking lot through an entrance lane.  Before I could drive off, a woman in a large SUV pulled up in front of me and blocked my exit. She stayed there for a couple of minutes, glaring and saying angry words I couldn’t hear (and probably didn’t want to hear) before shaking her fist at me and then driving on past the entrance. Part of me was tempted to follow her and explain that it was an accident, but I knew that wasn’t a good idea.  What I didn’t get was why she didn’t simply let me make the turn out of the parking lot, which would have immediately cleared the way for her to enter.  I didn’t understand why it was so important to her to let me know just how wrong I was and how angry she was.  Whatever happened to days of just shaking our head and muttering “idiot” when we saw another driver doing something that was stupid, but not dangerous?

And it’s not as if the anger is limited to our driving time.  Recently, a post popped up on my Facebook feed in which a mother was complaining about how a boy on her daughter’s school bus was relentlessly teasing her daughter about her new glasses, which had her daughter coming home in tears.  Like any mother, I understood how painful it is to see your child’s feelings hurt, but I was still shocked at some of the responses to the post.  While most of them, sensibly, advised talking to the bus driver or school principal, several of them took it much further, calling the boy all sorts of nasty names and suggesting various types of revenge.  One person even advised that the girl “punch the boy in the face and kick him hard in the crotch.”  Seriously?  Adults advising one child to physically attack another child?

It seems that almost everywhere I look these days, I see frustration, anger and even outright aggression, and it’s more than a little depressing.  Road rage, parents screaming at umpires during Little League games, news accounts of violent protests and riots, etc. have almost become the norm.  The internet is full of “keyboard warriors” who happily attack anyone who dares to disagree with them, or who does something that they don’t approve of.  “Name and shame” has become a battle cry for those who feel the need to teach others a lesson, mostly for behaving in a way that they feel is not acceptable.  Sadly, there seems to be no shame in publicly attacking other people, and the irony of reacting to hatred with even more hatred is lost on far too many of us.

I don’t pretent to know why so many people are so angry.  And I don’t pretend that I don’t have angry moments myself.  But I do know that anger is rarely the answer to any problem, large or small.  And I know that while we may not be able to choose when we become angry, we most certainly can choose whether or not we act on that anger.  We can choose to express our anger, without any thought or consideration to the harm that it does, or we can choose to let our anger be the trigger that causes us to address an injustice in the kind of rational manner that might actually bring about change for the better.  Controlling our tempers is not a sign of weakness, but rather a sign of maturity and the willingness to work through our problems toward a productive result.

Sometimes, when we are upset, it really is better just to keep it to ourselves.  Because the world doesn’t need our anger, as it has more than enough anger already.  What the world needs is our patience, our understanding, our courage, and most important of all, our kindness.

Tis The Season

IMG_0346The Christmas season has begun, and that’s just fine with me.  I’m one of those people who loves listening to Christmas music (yes, even in the grocery store), who puts up two Christmas trees and covers her house with Christmas decorations that are more tacky than tasteful, who enjoys baking Christmas cookies and even wrapping the presents.  If I could figure out a way to get out of actually having to shop (and pay for) those presents, I would be a completely happy camper this time of the year.

Sadly, the end of this Christmas season will coincide with the beginning of  a new season that I will definitely NOT enjoy:  the 2016 election season.  I hate all election years, but the Presidential elections are the worst as they seem to take the political ugliness to the highest possible level.  We’re not even done with the year 2015 yet, and I’m already seeing the hateful editorials in newspapers, the snarky Facebook posts, and the mean-spirited bumper stickers and yard signs.

I have no problem at all with people who have strong political convictions, and I actually admire the commitment of people who donate to and/or work on the election campaigns of a candidate they believe in. If you believe in a cause, you should be willing to support it with your time and money, in my opinion.   But I do have a problem, a huge problem, with people using their political beliefs as an excuse to to ridicule and attack those who don’t happen to share them.

Personally, I have never met a single person who has changed their politics just because someone else has made fun of them.  People don’t read a scathing blog post or hateful Facebook post and suddenly have an epiphany, see the error of their ways and resolve to vote for the other political party from now on.  It’s true that people whose views are attacked often enough can be silenced, choosing to just keep quiet rather than engage in ugly arguments, but I very much doubt that they have changed their beliefs (or the way they vote) at all.

I admit that when I read or hear something political that I find really offensive, there is always a small part of me that wants to lash out and let them know in no uncertain terms just how very wrong they are.  But I try hard not to do that, because lashing out through ridicule, snide put-downs, name-calling, etc. doesn’t help a thing, and actually does a lot of harm.  It makes the other person feel attacked, which means there is absolutely no hope they are going to listen to anything I have to say.  It’s completely possible for people with different points of views, even on something as important as politics, to have a polite and informative discussion about it, but only if we remember to always speak to the other person exactly as we want them to speak to us.

I know it’s naive of me to hope that this political season will be any nicer or more civilized than the ones before it, or that the candidates and their supporters will really treat each other with the respect and dignity that every human being deserves.  So all I can do is enjoy the rest of my Christmas season, and focus on its true message of hope, love and peace.  And then do my best to keep that focus through the upcoming election year…..